June 13, 2021

Mount Rushmore, an open wound for indigenous people, awaits Trump

They stole a sacred place from them and carved the faces of their “colonizers” into it. For thousands of indigenous people in the United States, Mount Rushmore is a “symbol of white supremacism” promoted by Donald Trump, and now they wait as an “insult” for the President’s visit to the national debate on monuments and racism.

The famous hillside of South Dakota where the faces of four American presidents are sculpted, which attracts two million tourists each year, will receive Trump this Friday for a patriotic party animated by fireworks and fighter jets on the occasion of the Day of the American independence.

His visit comes amid a process of reflection in the United States on the racist history of many of the statesmen and generals honored in monuments and statues, and that movement has shed light on a wound that Native Americans in the area have left open. for more than a century.


“Mount Rushmore is a symbol of injustice, racial inequality and white supremacism in the United States,” said Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and an activist with the NDN indigenous group, in an interview with Efe.

“It was carved on the sacred lands of the Lakota people with the faces of four white men who were colonizers of the indigenous people, who created terrible policies that continue to affect the indigenous people today. And that the President of the United States come here to seek votes (. ..) is a huge insult, “he added.

For a dozen indigenous tribes of the Great Plains of the USA, the Black Hills – where Mount Rushmore is located – are a “deeply sacred” place that they consider the “heart of the Earth,” an anthropologist from Efe explained. Iowa State University, Christina Gish Hill.


Although the Black Hills belonged to the Sioux nation under an 1868 treaty, the Government seized them during the 19th century gold rush and never returned them. The Supreme Court agreed with the Indians in 1980 and forced the US to pay them more than $ 1.3 billion, but the tribes have not accepted it.

“We don’t want the money, we want our land,” summarized Madonna Thunder Hawk, an 80-year-old Lakota indigenous leader, for Efe.

That land was “desecrated”, according to the tribes, between 1927 and 1941, when drills and dynamite outlined on one of its granite slopes the faces of former US Presidents George Washington (1789-1797), Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809 ), Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) and Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909).


All of them represent something offensive to the Indians: Washington and Jefferson enslaved dozens of African Americans while Roosevelt tried to evangelize many tribes and stated that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”; but the worst for many is Lincoln, the president who abolished slavery.

“Abraham Lincoln was a mass murderer of indigenous people,” Tilsen said, recalling that the president ordered what is considered the largest mass execution in US history, the hanging of 38 Native Americans in Minnesota in 1862.

The last straw, for Tilsen, is that the architect of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, was affiliated with the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan (KKK) before working on that project.

Indigenous people have been protesting for decades what Mount Rushmore represents – the Madonna Thunder Hawk even occupied it in 1970 – but the debate over monuments in the wake of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the Presidential visit has provided them with a more powerful megaphone.


Oglala Sioux president Julian Bear Runner last week called for the sculptures of the Black Hills presidents to be “removed”; and Cheyenne River Sioux tribal chief Harold Frazier offered to remove the monument “at no cost to the US government.”

Those statements sparked strong rejection from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, who has vowed to do “everything possible” to keep Mount Rushmore standing.

The tribes that worship the Black Hills are divided on what to do with the monument, according to Hill, an anthropologist who interviewed dozens of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians two years ago to study their thoughts on Mount Rushmore.

“Everyone would like it not to exist. But many people believe they cannot blow it up. They don’t want more destruction in a holy place,” Hill said.


It is just what Madonna Thunder Hawk feels, who believes that, being “realistic”, it is better “not to hide” Mount Rushmore: “Let it stay there so that the world can see what this country really is.”

His daughter Marcella Gilbert, 59, agrees: “Why not leave it there to see the history of these slavers, of these murderers of indigenous people, all white men, all land thieves? That is the history of this country ”

But unlike some of the indigenous people Hill interviewed, these two activists have no hope of educating tourists visiting Mount Rushmore: “It is a playground for adults. They do not come to learn anything, they come to glorify their heroes. Thunder Hawk settled.


Journalist and writer Tom Griffith, a staunch defender of Mount Rushmore, believes that the monument “symbolizes the best of the country” and that “to demolish or demonize the leaders of the past has no logical” objective, he assured Efe.

The problem for Hill is that this “honorific approach to history not only leaves many people out or erases it,” but “tells their side of the story in a really unfair way,” and “perpetuates stereotypes that have an impact. real in people’s lives today. ”

While Thunder Hawk and Gilbert have little hope that the US will ever return the Black Hills to the Sioux nation, Tilsen is filled with optimism in the soul-searching in the country.

“We are in the moment of truth, we are in the midst of dismantling white supremacism in this country. And we have a unique and powerful opportunity to radically re-imagine what the future means,” Tilsen concluded.


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